Friday 23 August 2019

'The unionist majority is gone, a united Ireland is within our grasp' - Sinn Fein deputy

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Gareth Cross

Sinn Fein's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill vowed that there will be an Irish unity referendum "within the next short number of years".

The Mid Ulster MLA made the comments while addressing party colleagues at Sinn Fein's local election campaign launch in Dublin on Sunday.

Ms O'Neill said that the Brexit debate had changed opinions on a united Ireland and called on people to begin preparing for the referendum.

She said that the "political landscape is changing" and "change is in the air", pointing to the recent electoral success of Sinn Fein.

“Over the past two elections in the north the unionist majority has gone," Ms O'Neill said.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP currently hold one more seat in the non-sitting Northern Ireland Assembly than the traditional parties of unionism, the DUP and UUP.

Ms O'Neill said that the "notion of a perpetual unionist majority - the very basis of partition - is gone" and that Brexit had "completely transformed the context".

“People who were previously apathetic about a United Ireland are re-engaged, and people who would have been opposed to a United Ireland are now reconsidering their position," the Sinn Fein deputy leader said.

“There is no doubt that Brexit has been a catalyst for mainstreaming the debate now underway, where people of all shades of opinion are considering the benefits of remaining within the United Kingdom against the merits of staying within the European Union through a unified Ireland."

The Mid Ulster MLA said that because of Brexit, Irish unity was "no longer a long-term aim" and that a referendum was a "very real prospect within the next short number of years".

Ms O'Neill called on people to prepare for the referendum, to "reach out and work with people from all identities and ideologies, and persuade them that interests are best served in a united Ireland".

“A United Ireland is within our grasp. We are in the most defining period since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and Ireland is changing rapidly," she said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that the party will meet in Belfast next week to select their Northern Ireland candidate for the upcoming European elections.

It remains to be seen whether the UK will field candidates in the election, but Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated the UK could be willing to take part, as she seeks another Brexit extension until June 30.

It is anticipated European Council President Donald Tusk will suggest a year long extension, which can be broken if the UK agrees a withdrawal deal, at a summit in Brussels next Wednesday.

"Sinn Fein will be ready, we will be prepared to energetically contest EU elections in the north," Mrs McDonald said.

“We will give the people of the north the opportunity to vote for a Sinn Fein candidate who will stand up for their interests, for the interests of Ireland."

Nominations for the Sinn Fein candidate will open on Monday and close on Friday with a selection convention held in Belfast next Saturday.

Party veteran Martina Anderson is the current Sinn Fein MEP for Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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